By: Keaton Denlay
If you’ve been on the fantasy football scene for a while you have probably heard the mantra that the 3rd year for WRs is the breakout season. Fresh off their sophomore slump, these players are now more nuanced route runners, have gained familiarity with the offense and have developed a chemistry with their QBs. Unfortunately, this is an old adage that does not translate to the modern NFL.
Sorry to burst the bubble for those of you holding out hope that this will be the breakout year for maligned 3rd year WRs, such as Nelson Agholor and Devin Funchess. The NFL game is evolving. Coaches and GMs are under increased scrutiny and do not have time to wait for players to develop as doing so would likely cost them their jobs. Fantasy scrapbooks are filled with Aaron Dobsons, Cody Latimers and Justin Hunters that just didn’t get it by their 3rd season.
To demonstrate this, I looked at all WRs taken in the 1st and 2nd rounds of the NFL draft from 2010 to 2014 and tracked their first 3 seasons in the league. Those 38 players averaged a 21.4% increase in fantasy points per game from Year 1 to Year 2. That same group improved by just 7.1% from Year 2 to Year 3. So, while it may seem obvious that players tend to improve as they mature in the league, it is perhaps more useful to understand that the biggest jump in production comes in Year 2. Generally, these players are undervalued going into their sophomore campaigns based on rookie seasons that weren’t particularly noteworthy. A few examples of these breakout seasons include; Brandin Cooks, 2015 (84-1,138-9); Allen Robinson, 2015 (80-1,400-14); Deandre Hopkins, 2014 (76-1,210-6); Josh Gordon, 2013 (87-1,646-9); and Randall Cobb, 2012 (80-954-8). Scoring a value like this late in your drafts is the kind of savvy move that can win you your league.
Here are a couple potential sophomore breakout candidates that will be available in the mid to late rounds in fantasy drafts this summer. You may notice that they are all sophomore receivers. Michael Thomas and Tyreek Hill are not eligible here because at their current ADP they hardly qualify as value picks or sleepers.
Corey Coleman – Cleveland Browns
Being the first WR taken in the 2016 NFL draft comes with high expectations. Coleman was unable to live up to the hype as a rookie as injuries and hellish QB carousel sandbagged his 2016 campaign. There are reports that Coleman will miss additional time this offseason with an awkward fall-related injury, but he should be back in time for training camp.
The naysayers will point to the QB situation in the Dawg Pound as the Achilles heel for Coleman yet again in 2017, but the situation may not be as bleak as it seems. Assuming Cody Kessler gets the starting gig, he can do enough to make Coleman an exciting fantasy option. Kessler’s completion percentage (65.6%) and passer rating (92.3) were very respectable and put him in the conversation with some of the more efficient passers in the league. For example, Aaron Rodgers had a completion percentage of 65.7% and Russel Wilson had a passer rating of 92.6. Obviously, Kessler isn’t on the same planet as those guys, but he can be a more than serviceable QB and provide Coleman with the opportunity he needs to breakout in Year 2.
Josh Doctson – Washington Redskins
Josh Doctson, like Coleman, was held back by injuries in his rookie year. Unlike Coleman, however, Doctson barely saw the field at all. His Achilles tendon injury limited the Redskins rookie to just 2 receptions, which is not great, but what is great is what he did with those two grabs: 66 yards. The wideout clearly showed he possesses big-play ability, the same explosiveness that he exhibited in college. The Redskins also made it clear that they view the 6’4 Doctson as a red zone threat as 3 of his 7 targets came in the red zone, with 2 coming inside the 10. This sample size is so small it’s almost laughable, but I think it tells a story on how the team wants to use Doctson in 2017 as the offense looks for a playmaker to fill the shoes of the free agent departures DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon.
Chris Moore – Baltimore Ravens
If Doctson and Coleman are a little too expensive for your taste, have no fear. Chris Moore of the Ravens has the size and athleticism to give you that breakout potential you’re looking for and he’s basically free in drafts.
Moore finds himself in the highest volume passing attack in the NFL two years running. Last year, the Ravens attempted 679 passes. Going into 2017, the team has lost 273 targets with the departures of Steve Smith, Dennis Pitta, and Kamar Aiken. At the time of article, it looks like Eric Decker is considering retirement and Jeremy Maclin has concluded his visit with the Ravens without signing a contract, so as it stands, the soon to be 31-year old Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman, who’s knees are actually 67 years old, are the only obstacles between Moore and significant playing time. I like the chances of winning the lottery with Moore, especially considering the cost to play is next to nothing.